We are just days away from the start of the Winter Olympics and Canadians may be forgiven for not feeling in a particularly cheerful mood.
The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to rattle our lives, with increased discussions about vaccine mandates and daily statements by health authorities. The country’s residents are also more concerned about economic stability and inflation than in years past.
If the Games were taking place in the United States or Europe, the sentiment from Canadians might be different. However, as those interested in skating, skiing and hockey undoubtedly know, the Olympics are being held in Beijing, making the city unique as the first host of both the summer and winter varieties of the sporting event.
From the standpoint of the average spectator, the Winter Olympics will be unusual in North America. The broadcasters that secured the rights to the Games years before anyone knew what COVID-19 was will not send the usual army of reporters and commentators to Beijing. These Games, like the ones that took place in Tokyo last summer, will feature little local flavour and many virtual sets managed from Ontario and Connecticut.
Research Co. and Glacier Media have consistently tracked the views of Canadians on China and the 2022 Olympics. Only about one in five Canadians have had a positive view of the People’s Republic of China for the past year and a half (20% when we last asked this question in December).
Also in December, 56% of Canadians thought that Canada should boycott the 2022 Winter Games because of China’s human rights record. The survey also outlined that Canadians wanted athletes to have free expression during the Games, as well as concerns about their safety: partly due to COVID-19, but also because they keep in mind the arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
A few days ago, we asked Canadians again about Beijing 2022. Perhaps the allure of a sporting event that Canadians followed intently in past editions would change minds. Or maybe, to follow the rhetoric from past and present presidents of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), this is “a time for sport, not politics.”
The answer to both of these questions is a resounding “No.” In our latest survey, 59% of Canadians remain adamant that Canada should boycott the Beijing Olympics, up three points since December and the highest level observed in four different surveys conducted since March 2021.
The generational gap that is usually present on nationwide public opinion research is not prominent on this matter. Majorities of Canadians aged 18 to 34 (59%), aged 35 to 54 (54%) and aged 55 and over (65%) want to send a message that goes beyond not having a sitting official at the opening ceremonies – essentially what the “diplomatic boycott” enacted by Canada and the United States entails.
As was the case a few weeks ago, residents of three provinces are particularly adamant about keeping Canadian athletes home: Quebec (66%), British Columbia (also 66%) and Ontario (57%). There is no political divide on this matter either. More than three in five Canadians who last year voted for the Conservative Party of Canada (67%), the Liberal Party of Canada (63%) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) (62%) also support a boycott.
Regardless of the status of participants, most Canadians remain steadfast in the belief that athletes should be able to protest China’s human rights record during Beijing 2022 (72%, down two points) and that the IOC should not punish those who choose to do so (also 72%, up one point).
An equal proportion (72%, down two points) remains concerned about the health and safety of Canadian athletes who travel to Beijing. In addition, 47% of Canadians (up two points) claim that they will make a conscious effort to refrain from watching the Games, a proportion that rises to 53% in Quebec.
We also continue to see consistency in the relationship between Canadian wallets and Chinese exports. Only 30% of Canadians (down two points) say they never avoid products from China. Among the remaining 70% who try to pay attention to what they buy, 41% elude Chinese goods “most of the time” and 16% say they follow this course of action “all of the time.”
As the start of Beijing 2022 draws near, almost half of Canadians claim that they will be tuning out of this edition of the Winter Olympics altogether. The negative views of Canadians on the host country have not budged. Compared with last year, a slightly larger proportion of Canadians believe that a full boycott is warranted.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from January 21 to January 23, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.